Farmers involved in a land dispute in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi freed 15 riot police Tuesday held in the aftermath of a clash with authorities over the weekend and said they are preparing to release around 20 additional local officials, according to state media.
On the morning of April 15, police clashed with residents of Dong Tam commune, in Hanoi’s My Duc district, who say the government is seizing 47 hectares (116 acres) of their farmland for the military-run Viettel Group—the country’s largest mobile phone operator—without compensating them.
Police arrested four farmers for allegedly causing social unrest, and other farmers responded by detaining as many as 38 police officers and local officials, and threatening to kill them if security personnel attack again. Some of the farmers who were arrested have since been released.
The official Tuoi Tre newspaper cited deputy director of the Hanoi police department Bach Thanh Dinh as saying that as of Tuesday afternoon, 15 police officers had been freed by the villagers, while three others managed to escape by themselves.
Twenty people are still being held in Dong Tam and should be released as soon as possible, Dinh said, adding that authorities had made no compromises with the farmers and those responsible for detaining the police officers and local officials would be dealt with according to the law.
Reuters, which reported that the farmers are detaining 21 people, quoted a representative from My Duc named Bui Viet Hieu as saying they were “ready to free all officials” on Tuesday and are waiting for “authorities to come and receive them.”
The Hanoi government has gradually increased a security presence around Dong Tam, while electricity and wireless phone networks have been cut off in the area, leaving residents unable to communicate with the outside world.
State media had cited the farmers as saying they are treating the detainees well, though rights group Defend the Defenders said in a statement Sunday that the farmers were keeping them in a closed room and were prepared to “burn them with petrol” if authorities attack the village.
The farmers have demanded that the government give up its plan to take their farmland without compensation.
Activists around the country have called on Hanoi to withdraw security forces from the area, for the farmers to release the police officers, and for both sides to settle the dispute peacefully.
On Monday, lawyer Tran Vu Hai, who is advising the farmers, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that Hanoi mayor Nguyen Duc Chung had spoken with the Dong Tam farmers by phone and pledged to visit the commune to meet with them the next day.
On Tuesday, however, Hai wrote on his Facebook page that Chung denied having promised to do so, and attempts by RFA to reach the mayor by phone went unanswered.
According to the Hanoi Communist Party Organization's propaganda department, the land in Dong Tam has been reserved to build a military airfield since 1980 and was recently awarded to Viettel to build a defense-related project, Tuoi Tre reported Tuesday, adding that farmers had illegally occupied it.
While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landowners aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to those whose land is taken.
Many petitioners who seek justice and demand adequate compensation for their land have been beaten and imprisoned by authorities on allegations of causing public disorder under Article 245 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.